What Highway Patrol Troopers See in Too Many Fatal Motorcycle Wrecks
The motorcycle rider who died Wednesday night on Interstate 4 was speeding and not obeying traffic laws. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.
The rider was driving between the lanes of stopped vehicles as a tow truck hauled a vehicle from a ditch and noticed the truck too late to stop.
“He was going way too fast. If he’d been doing the speed limit he probably would have had time to stop,” Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Larry Kraus said.
Instead of being able to stop, the unidentified rider dropped the Honda motorcycle on its side and slid under the tow truck. He died at the scene.
The heady mix of speed and power can prove too tempting to resist.
The increase in popularity of high-performance sports motorcycles – which are often called “crotch rockets” because of how the rider sits and can go from zero to 100 mph in seconds – is a temptation for thrill seekers.
“They know it can go fast and they’re just going to push it,” Kraus said. “There are adrenaline junkies out there. When you’re going 130 miles per hour, you’re blood’s flowing.”
Troopers have clocked some of those high-performance motorcycles at 180 mph, too fast for highway patrol cars to keep up, he said.
Even without speeding or reckless riding, motorcyclists are far more vulnerable to mistakes, both their own or those made by other drivers.
“You’re extremely vulnerable. On a motorcycle, the only thing you have protecting you is your protective gear. You don’t get a second chance with a motorcycle,” said Mark Parco, an owner of Florida Professional Motorcycle Training Inc.
Usually, other motorists cause collisions with motorcycles. A Florida Department of Highway Safety study that looked at more than 1,500 fatal motorcycle accidents between 1997 and 2002 showed that 60 percent were due to the action of other drivers, he said.
But of those, Parco said, the study found 80 percent could have been avoided if the motorcyclist had reacted properly.
That’s where training comes in.
Since July 1, 2008, the state has required anyone who gets the necessary motorcycle endorsement on a driver license to take a safety class. The exception is someone who already had the endorsement before the law went into effect.
“Most people are self-taught riders. They get a bike, learn how to make it go and ride for 20 years and think they’re a good rider,” Parco said.
Many self-taught riders don’t use the motorcycle’s front brakes because they don’t know how to use them properly and fear being pitched over the handlebars. So they use just the rear brakes and they lay the bike down when trying to stop quickly, he said.
Nearly half the fatal accidents that don’t involve another vehicle happen on a curve because untrained riders don’t know the correct way to negotiate a curve.
“You slow before the curve, not when you’re halfway through it and realize you’re going too fast. Then it’s too late,” Parco said.
Ultimately, it comes to the decisions a motorcyclist makes, said Robert Gladden of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, which is based in California.
“It’s up to the motorcyclist not to make bad decisions. Not to ride impaired and not to speed,” he said.
A mistake on a motorcycle can have far worse consequences than one made behind the wheel of a car. In an accident, there is little to protect a motorcycle rider.
“Obviously, you’re not wrapped in that protective cage,” Gladden said. “Ride sober and use safety gear.”